The Professor of Chess

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Jacob Henry Sarratt (1772-1819)

     Jacob Henry Sarratt, born in 1772, worked primarily as schoolmaster but was much better known for his advocations which, of course, included chess.
     After Philidor's death, Verdoni (along with Leger, Carlier and Bernard - all four who co-authored "Traité Théorique et Pratique du jeu des Echecs par une Societé d' Amateurs") was considered one of the strongest players in the world, especially in England.
     Verdoni had taken Philidor's place as house professional at Parsloe's. He mentored Jacob Sarratt until he died in 1804. That year Sarratt became the house professional at the Salopian at Charing Cross in London and most of his contemporaries considered him London's strongest player.
     There he claimed the title of "Professor of Chess" while teaching chess at the price of a guinea per game. By today's measure Surratt was not a particularly strong player but he was considered the strongest player of his time (His student William Lewis claimed Surratt was stronger than Labourdonnais).  It's been said by some that he maintained the illusion of strength  by avoiding the stronger players as he lorded over his students who didn't know better. Still,  for those chess players exposed predominately to the style of play based on Ruy Lopez and refined by Philidor, Sarratt's revival of the Modense School, based more on the Romantic ideas of Greco, an attacking, tactical style, Sarratt must have seemed like a breath of fresh air. Surratt had a notion that chess culminated in the 16th century and that everything since then had been a step backwards. This peciliar notion had a positive side. Philidor was the darling of the English chess scene. Almost all books at that time were versions of, or at least based on, Philidor's book. Surratt at least kept open the possiblitly that there were ideas beyond (and before) those of Philidor.

     Sarratt's most important contribution to chess was that he mentored William Lewis who in turn mentored Alexander McDonnell (of La Bourdonnais vs. M'Donnell fame).

     In 1808, true to his role as a teacher, Surratt published his "Treatise on the Game of Chess,"  a book that mainly concentrated on direct attacks on the king which he lifted from the Modense writers. He translated several older writers whom he admired (though his translations are not considered particularly good - Sarratt's translation of Damiano, Lopez, and Salvio and that of Gianutio and Selenus, as Willard Fise put it are "so mutilated as to be of little value,"  and such that Geo. Walker call  them his "his barbarously mutilated translations."):
     "The Works of Damiano, Ruy Lopez and Salvio" in 1813.
     "The Works of Gianutio and Gustavus Selenus" in 1817.
   In 1821 a posthumous edition of his Treatise, "A New Treatise on the Game of Chess," was published. This copy covered the game of chess as a whole and was designed for the novice player. It also contained a 98 page analysis of the Muzio.
     In addition to his chess books, Surratt also published:
               "History of Man" in 1802,
               "A New Picture of London" in 1803
               He translated "Three Monks!!!" from French in 1803
               and "Koenigsmark the Robber" from German in 1803.

     His second wife, Elizabeth Camillia Dufour, was also a writer. In 1803 (before they were married, which was 1804), she published a novel called "Aurora or The Mysterious Beauty" (which was also lifted from a French book, "Aurora, ou l’amant mystérieuse" by J.J.M. Duperche). They were married the following year. Camilla Dufour was also a professional singer, though said to be somewhat second-rate. Her singing career began on Feb. 11, 1796 at King's Theatre; that year she sang at the Pantheon and at Hanover Square. In 1797 she signed a lucrative contract at Drury Lane where she sang soprano as Adele in 'The Haunted Tower.'  In 1798, she was soloist in the Convent Garden Lent oratorios while also singing at Drury Lane.  Too short and plump for leading roles, she retired from professional singing in 1799 and turned to writing. It was through their common publisher that she and Surratt met and soon married (at St Leonard, Shoreditch, on Dec. 30 1804). In 1809 she briefly took up singing again, appearing at the Royal Circus.  His first wife, Marie Bruzard, whom he married in 1790 when both were 18 and with whom he had at least two children (Mary Ann Louisa, born Dec. 11, 1799 and Susan Catherine, born on 1 Feb. 1 1802)  had died in 1802.  Both his wives were from Jersey.

     Contrary to what one might expect, Sarratt has been described as tall, lean and muscular and had even been a prize-fighter at one point. He had also breeded dogs for fighting. He was regarded as a very affable fellow and very well-read but with limited taste.
     William Hazlitt, in his essay On Coffee-House Politicians wrote:
                 "[Dr. Whittle] was once sitting where Sarratt was playing a game
               at chess without seeing the board... Sarratt, who was a man of
               various accomplishments, afterwards bared his arm to convince
               us of his muscular strength...
                 Sarratt, the chess-player, was an extraordinary man. He had the
               same tenacious, epileptic faculty in other things that he had at
               chess, and could no more get any other ideas out of his mind than
               he could those of the figures on the board. He was a great reader,
               but had not the least taste. Indeed the violence of his memory
               tyrannised over and destroyed all power of selection.
                 He could repeat [all] Ossian by heart, without knowing the best
               passage from the worst; and did not perceive he was tiring you
               to death by giving an account of the breed, education, and
               manners of fighting-dogs for hours together. The sense of reality
               quite superseded the distinction between the pleasurable and
               the painful. He was altogether a mechanical philosopher."

     Sarratt died in 1819 after a protracted illness during which he couldn't work, leaving his wife destitute.  His posthumous book brought in some income, but his wife moved to Paris, supporting herself by giving chess instruction to the wealthy and aristocatic.  In 1843 a subscription was raised for her financial support.  Many chess amateurs contributed, as did "Le Palamède" (the chess magazine) and even King Louis-Philippe. Camilla died in 1846.

George Walker in "Chess & Chess-Players: Consisting of Original Stories and Sketches,"  mentions Sarratt in reference to blindfold play and gives this anecdote:
                        [Carrera] informs us in general terms, that the Turks in Hungary
                        accustomed to play chess together by memory while riding on horseback.
                        This reminds me of our English chess professor, Sarratt, and the celebrated
                        young French player, Hypolite de Bourblanc, who were accustomed, in the
                        beginning of the present century, to play chess almost daily together in this
                        manner, while strolling in the pleasant meadows then skirting the north of
                        London. Upon these occasions, if the positions became too entangled for
                        satisfactory solution on the spot, the game was'adjourned, until their return
                        home afforded them the assistance of a chessboard. M. de Bourblanc could
                        hardly find his equal here, except in the person of Mr. Sarratt, the first English
                        player of his day; and would have probably struck a blow at the supremacy of
                        Deschapelles himself, had fate spared his life a few more years. De Bourblanc
                        was unfortunately drowned at sea, on a voyage to the Mauritius.


Jacob Henry Sarratt encouraged, and suceeded in, changing the Stalemate rule, (which in England and many other countries at that time was that the side giving Stalemate lost)  to being a draw.  He was also instumental in naming the opening now called the Sicilian by pointing out that it was first demonstrated by Carerra, a Sicilian. 

A few Sarratt miniatures: